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Cadets Q&A: Ask the expert

17 April 2024

Ask the expert is for all members with questions or concerns about cadet training, including coursework, exams, seatime, and getting that all-important first job onboard.

Visit our Cadet Hub for more information on Nautilus cadet services.

Ask the expert – problems with your sponsor

Q: I've just come back from a sea time phase. My sponsor company did a poor job. I experienced some serious problems, so I'm reluctant to go back onboard one of that company's vessels for my next sea time phase. What should I do?

A: It's your sponsor's responsibility to ensure that you get the training you need, and that you are safe and well-treated onboard.
Recently, a couple of members have told their training provider that they don't want to go back to sea with their sponsor, but haven't been specific as to why. Instead, they have simply quit.

A bad sea time experience can be traumatic, so it's easy to understand why you might want to quit straightaway. However, if you are looking to improve your experience then the training provider and sponsor will need to know exactly what the issues were in order to address them. This will help you to keep your training on track.

You can do this by going through the proper grievance procedure. Fortunately, as a Nautilus member, you can ask for the Union's help with this.

How should you go about it?

  • during your sea time, if there are issues you think need to be addressed by the training provider, then you should collect evidence (dates of incidents, times, witnesses, photographs – keep a detailed log) to put together as a case for your grievance
  • assuming there is no immediate danger, you should get in touch with Nautilus after your time onboard so we can look at your case together
  • then you can raise an official grievance in accordance with the sponsor's or training provider's procedures

Ask the expert – harassment and cadet welfare support

Q: I'm at sea right now. I’ve been dealing with harassment but now things have gone too far, what should I do?

A: The first thing to know is that you are not alone.

Sadly, this situation is all too common. Abuse and harassment can be experienced by anyone at sea, whatever their sex, race or sexuality. Female cadets and LGBT+ cadets do face particular issues, especially when onboard vessels with crews from countries with different cultural attitudes.

To improve the situation, Nautilus has been bringing up serious cases with the new Cadet Welfare Group to push regulators to improve the situation.

If you experience any kind of bullying or harassment, it is also a good idea to make a note of any incidents, including the time, date and the names of any witnesses, as well as anything you said to the bully or harasser and your emotional state (it is important to be clear about how someone's behaviour made you feel, so it can't be passed off as a joke).

However, the best thing you can do is contact Nautilus, as your trade union. We can provide advice and support on your specific situation.

Bullying and harassment is a problem which rarely goes away by itself, so if you are being bullied or harassed, it is best to take action. However, sometimes this action (such as informing your training officer or the captain) does not resolve the situation. We'll be able to assist you if this occurs, and we can use our connections to bring in other authorities to help you.

Ask the expert – cadetship vs apprenticeship support

Q: As a cadet, am I entitled to the support and benefits that the UK government has made available to apprentices?

A: Unfortunately, no. The MNTB cadetship programme is not classed as an apprenticeship.

This means that, because you are sponsored rather than employed, you aren't entitled to receive the same benefits as an apprentice in a differentindustry – such as the UK National Minimum Wage for apprentices (£5.28 per hour), paid-for training, 20 days' paid holiday per year or UK employment rights.

Nautilus is continuing to campaign on behalf of UK cadets to improve your pay and conditions, including for 100% state-funded cadetships.

The Union is feeding into the current Cadet Training & Modernisation (CT&M) Programme, which is looking at all aspects of the current system, including funding.

Ask the expert – seatime in Ukraine

Q: My vessel is due to travel to Russia during my seatime phase. Do I have to go, given the current war in Ukraine? What are my rights?

A: Nautilus knows of at least one case where a UK cadet onboard a mostly Russian-crewed vessel was expected to travel to a Russian Black Sea port.

Fortunately, in that case the sponsor company decided to put the cadet ashore in a different Black Sea port, doing other work, until the vessel returned from Russia.

If you are in the Black Sea area you should be very mindful about where your vessel is travelling, so you can take action as soon as possible if it is likely to enter the warzone.

You could find yourself in a similar situation to the cadet mentioned above.

The current officially designated Warlike Operations Area covers 'all Ukrainian, Russian and International Waters north of 44°North in the Black Sea.' The Netherlands war zone agreement for Ukraine applies to Dutch-flagged vessels and is broadly equivalent.

Remember that you have a right as a seafarer to be informed that your vessel is entering this Warlike Operations Area, and to disembark beforehand if that is your choice.

Find more information about your rights when working in a war zone in our explainer on how Warlike Operations Area agreements protect seafarers.

Ask the expert – costs covered by sponsors

Q: What costs should be covered by my sponsor?

A: If you are following the UK Merchant Navy Training Board approved cadetship route, your sponsor company will cover the cost of your tuition fees.

In addition, you should be paid a monthly bursary to cover some or all of the costs you incur from accommodation and sustenance (food and other costs), plus a uniform allowance and funding for travel to and from the vessel for your seatime phases.

Most sponsors will also reimburse you for travel to and from college at the start and end of the phase,for the cost of your ENG 1 medical, and for expenses arising from any visa or vaccination requirements.


Ask the expert – dealing with bullying/harassment

Q:I think I have been bullied/harassed during my cadetship, what can I do?

A: Nautilus has recently been hearing from female cadets who have faced bullying and harassment during their cadetships. Harassment is never acceptable, and Nautilus continues to work for cultural change to address the issue for good; however, it is a sad fact that it is currently an ongoing and serious problem in the maritime industry.

Bullying and harassment is a problem which rarely goes away by itself, so if you are being bullied or harassed, it is best to take action.

A good first step is to find out your college or sponsor's policy on bullying and harassment.

This should set out how employees or cadets are expected to behave and explain the procedures for making a complaint.

It is also a good idea to make a note of any incidents, including the time, date and the names of any witnesses, as well as anything you said to the bully or harasser and your emotional

state (it is important to be clear about how someone's behaviour made you feel, so it can't be passed off as a joke).

There are other actions you can take to either directly tackle the issue or request support.

However, the best thing you can do is to contact Nautilus before things reach a crisis point. The Union is here to support you in recognising and tackling the problem – starting with an informal chat about your options. Please contact cadet lead Rachel Lynch to discuss your situation.

Ask the expert – seatime what to expect

Q: I’m going on my first sea time phase, what should I expect about living onboard?

A: Your living conditions will depend on the vessel/ship type, but there are a few things that are useful for every cadet to know before you go onboard. The most important thing to remember is that the ship is not just a workplace – it’s
home for you and the rest of the crew onboard. You will be in a shared living space, so there will usually be a certain level of conduct expected. A good rule of thumb is to clear up after yourself – keep your cabin and the living space tidy (though you shouldn’t have to clean up after everybody else!) – and also be conscious of the hours of work and rest, as during your waking hours others will be resting. Most of what is expected will be common sense but the Merchant Navy Code of Conduct, which was co-created by Nautilus, is a good guide. It covers everything from punctuality to duties, treatment of accommodation, behaviour towards others and company procedures

Ask the expert – high risk areas

Q: What should I do if my vessel is scheduled to transit a high-risk area?

A: Cadets are onboard to train and obtain their Officer of the Watch (OOW) certification, not to enter high-risk areas.

Once qualified, seafarers can make an informed decision about whether the incentives given by the company and enhanced security measures onboard make accepting the job worth the potential danger.

For almost all the high-risk areas you have the right to refuse to sail, and repatriation should be organised by the company at their cost.

You can find a list of all the areas, their exact designation, and the rights that you therefore have on the ITF Seafarers website warlike and high risk areas information page.

Ask the expert – safety issues

Q: What should I do if I think there might be a safety issue onboard while I'm on my seatime phase?

A: As a cadet, you might feel a bit uncertain about whether you should mention a potential safety issue – but you have a responsibility to the rest of the crew to bring it up, as you could help to prevent one of your colleagues from being seriously injured.

In the first instance, you can talk to the designated shipboard training officer about your concerns. The next person to consult is the vessel's master.

Other potential avenues for assistance are your training provider, the vessel's flag state, or port authorities.

As your trade union, Nautilus is also always ready to assist you and provide guidance on what to do. You can get in touch with Rachel Lynch, our strategy organiser with responsibility for cadets, or with the office for your branch of the Union (see


Ask the expert – resitting courses

Q. What happens if I fail my UK courses? Can I resit them?

A. The short answer is yes. You can resit some or all of your courses. However, SMarT funding is not available for repeated phases. That means that, unless your sponsoring employer will pay for you to repeat phases without SMarT funding, you will have to self-fund your training, which can run into thousands of pounds.

You may also be able to resit particular exams. You might be asked to pay an additional administration fee for this, although many colleges will allow you one or more resits free of charge before they require additional funds.

Source: MGN455



Ask the expert – training

Ask the expert is for all members with questions or concerns about cadet training, including coursework, exams, seatime, and getting that all-important first job onboard.

Q: I joined the UK Royal Naval Reserve but my sponsor is reluctant to give me the time off I need for training. What can I do?

Unfortunately, employers don't have to give either unpaid or paid time off for training, although they are required to give you time away from work if a mobilisation order is given. In this case your job will be protected, by law.

This guidance applies to reservists with the RNR and the other branches of the armed forces.

Many employers are happy to give time off for training, but if your sponsor is not then it is best to get in touch with the RNR as they may be able to help you.

Ask the expert – cadetships

Ask the expert is for all members with questions or concerns about cadet training, including coursework, exams, seatime, and getting that all-important first job onboard.

Q: I cancelled my cadet training to pursue other interests, but now want to return. Can I get funding for a second cadetship?

A:The government funded SMarT scheme has strict rules on eligibility which training providers must meet, so check with them first before applying to study.

The scheme allows for a maximum of 150 instalments unless the trainee is either issued with their first CoC in less than 150 weeks or where the trainee ceases training for any reason.

Where SMarT has been claimed in full by another training provider, no further SMarT funding will be payable. However, where only some SMarT has been paid, the remaining instalments (up to a maximum of 150) may be claimed to enable the trainee to continue their training.

Ask the expert – pandemic queries

Q: I am a UK cadet who has not been able to do any sea time due to the pandemic, and now need to do 12 months at the end of my course. What options are available?

A: Hundreds of UK cadets were caught out by pandemic travel restrictions, which meant they could not complete their sea time.

To solve that problem, Nautilus has reached agreement with the UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) and Merchant Navy Training Board (MNTB) to allow consecutive phasing of sea time.

Under the agreement, sea time should be no longer than five months at a time. Cadets should have readily-available free access to the internet and regular check-ups with the training provider, friends and family.

Cadets who are being consecutively phased will receive a minimum of one week's leave for every month onboard, which must be taken before they can join another vessel.

So, a cadet with 12 months of sea time needed to complete their training could do four months on and one month off in three stages. Talk to your training provider or college for further information.

Q: I have not been able to finish my course due to the pandemic and have run out of funding, what can I do?

A: Good news! The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) has extended its cadet funding by up to 12 months in total for cadets who can't complete their training and obtain their Certificate of Competency (CoC) within the 150-week SMarT funding period due to Covid restrictions. Funding extensions are available up to and including 31 October 2024.

There are several reasons to claim:

  • a delay has occurred in completing STCW safety courses, which were unavailable
  • a delay has occurred in obtaining seagoing service
  • a delay has occurred in completing an MCA-approved long course at college
  • a delay has occurred in completing MCA Written Exam Papers

Funding requests will be considered by the MCA on a case-by-case basis. Ask your sponsor company to apply.

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